Foundations: White Lies

From Duke Ellington to Deerhoof via some stirring prog...

Foundations is simple: Clash speaks to an artist about five albums that have shaped them into the musician they are today.

Here, White Lies’ Charles Cave chats at length about a handful of inspiring records. Anyone assuming the outfit to be a bunch exclusively tuned into Joy Division-like ensembles might find the following enlightening, to say the least.

White Lies’ third studio LP, ‘Big TV’ (Clash review), is released on August 12th. Its lead single, ‘There Goes Our Love Again’, is released on August 5th.

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White Lies, ‘There Goes Our Love Again’, from ‘Big TV’

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Yes – ‘Close To The Edge’ (1972)

There’s no parental influence to this one, not at all. My dad and I do share a really encyclopaedic passion for music, but it was after I discovered this album a few years back that I was pressing him: “Come on, you must remember when this came out… Did you have this?” But he’s always said that he didn’t like Jon Anderson’s voice so much, so he didn’t get into Yes. He’s a really big Caravan fan though, and likes a lot of other records in that vein, from that time.

I think that ‘Close To The Edge’, the title track, or opus, is one of the best pieces of music ever written. The rest of the album is fantastic as well. I must listen to this album at least once a week, if not more. Others might find that they don’t have the time to put on a 20-minute piece of music, but I’m the opposite: there are so many times in the day when I have exactly 20 minutes, while travelling or something like that, to listen to ‘Close To The Edge’.

I’ve always been into fairly progressive music, since my teens, and I used to be really into heavy metal. I bypassed nu-metal, and went straight to a lot of the older-school stuff. I was actually thinking of including ‘Arise’ by Sepultura in this piece. That’s a really important album for me, and I think it’s one of the best metal albums ever. I was into them, and Pantera, and then I suppose I moved towards bands like Opeth, who are definitely in that prog-metal realm.

When I stopped being such a bloody goth, I moved onto things like ‘De-Loused In The Comatorium’, by The Mars Volta, which was a huge album for me. I used to play that to death. And in school, I’d play a lot of jazz, so that drew me to a lot of more progressive, epic music, which plays against formulas.

And with ‘Close To The Edge’… it’s so concise, while also being quite a meandering composition. And I think that prog-rock from that era gets a bad name because of material that doesn’t really go anywhere. The really noodly records. But ‘Close To The Edge’ is immaculately mapped out. It’s architectural in the way it’s put together, with the themes that recur. It’s just amazing.

I listen to this and think, “Jeeeeeesus Christ”. What young musicians are out there now, making the equivalent of this? I mean, you’ve acts like Youth Lagoon and Tame Impala, but they’re not anything like this. Yes, here… they could play their instruments to a ridiculous level, and exhibit a tasteful understanding of them, using their skills to make these amazing compositions, and not just this… I suppose wank is the term.

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The Blue Nile – ‘Hats’ (1989)

I’m definitely drawn to a few male singers right now, literally just because of the effect of their voices. I almost don’t care what they’re saying, in some ways. And I feel that Paul Buchanan of The Blue Nile, whose solo album is brilliant too, is up there with Mark Kozelek for me, as a singer. Both have these caramelised, deep vocals.

Since discovering ‘Hats’, I think I must have listened to it… well, for a while I was listening to it every day. At the start of this year, in January and February, I’d be planning my journeys around London so that I could listen to this record. So I’d catch a bus and listen to ‘Hats’ from start to finish. I used to go to Laura Marling’s house, before she moved to LA, and I always took this really weird bus route back from her place so that I could listen to ‘Hats’. And that’s all I’d listen to. Get on the bus, press play, and the journey lasted long enough to get through the record.

I think it’s just… I was thinking about ambition for the future the other day, and when I think about the music I listened to when I was younger, I remember there used to be these adverts on TV, always, for compilations called things like ‘The Ultimate Driving Album’. And it’d have stuff like Whitesnake and REO Speedwagon on it. I love making music like that – that cheesy power-rock. And I was thinking about what it’d be like if bands like Arcade Fire and The National did that sort of thing, for charity. I’d call it, ‘The Motherf*cking Best Driving Album In The Motherf*cking Universe’, and I’d write all the music. But it’d all sound just like Boston, and REO Speedwagon, only with these really credible artists performing. I’d definitely have a few tracks from ‘Hats’ in there.

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Duke Ellington – ‘The Far East Suite’ (1967)

This comes from my music teacher at school, when I was about 14. I struck up a friendship with said teacher, and he was a jazz musician himself. He helped me learn to play bass, and in some ways he sort of suggested it was OK that I’d bunk off other lessons to play bass downstairs. I was in two different jazz groups in the school. He helped me a lot with composing for my exams, and he definitely said that I needed to get this record. And it’s one I’ve loved and appreciated, in an evolving way, since I was 14.

This is one of the few records that I find completely multi-sensory. I know how that sounds. Obviously it’s a travel record, inspired by his journeys through parts of the Middle East, India and I think even parts of north Africa. I think he maybe finished off in what was Siam. But he spent time in Turkey, definitely. I just completely drift into it – I absolutely am transported to these places, some of which I’ve been fortunate to visit myself.

I’m by no means a jazz nut. I know what I like, and there’s a hell of a lot of stuff that I don’t. And I think what’s great about this record is that the pieces feel like songs – the lead melodies are so poignant, and so well grounded, and the improvisational aspects are pretty modest. So I just think it’s a real journey. There are records from certain genres that I know can set people’s teeth on edge, and I know that if someone told me that they thought jazz was all nonsense, I’d suggest they listen to this. It’s that sort of record.

I sort of naively think of ‘The Far East Suite’ as the ultimate seduction record. But to be honest, I’m not sure that it’s worked for me so far. I would love to hear feedback from readers on its success in that respect. There’s a track on it called ‘Isfahan’, which to me is just a brilliant, ‘and now we’re back at my place’ kind of track. But so far, I can’t say that it’s been directly linked to any romantic success. But I do encourage everyone to give it a spin.

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ANBB – ‘Mimikry’ (2010)

My discovery of this happened very quickly. I got bang into Yellow Magic Orchestra, and at the same time I would have got into Ryuichi Sakamoto, and what he was doing with Alva Noto (the “AN” of ANBB – Clash). So I subsequently got into Noto’s records, which can be very ambient. Sakamoto did a record called ‘Out Of Noise’, which was pretty similar. And from there, something just popped up with ANBB on it, and I thought: holy shit.

Blixa Bargeld (the “BB” – Clash) is someone who I’ve listened to for a long time, mainly through his work with The Bad Seeds. I got really into Nick Cave when I was about 14, and absolutely love ‘The Weeping Song’, where Blixa gets his real standout moment singing. And, to some degree, I’ve enjoyed Einstürzende Neubauten, but I’ve never got totally into that.

But this ANBB record, it’s good that we mention it right after Duke Ellington, as I have a very similar experience with it – it’s a black hole that you fall into. It is difficult, in a way – it’s not something that I’d put on with someone else there, to get them to listen to it. I think it needs to be experienced alone. But there was a guy at our publishers, who asked me what my album of the year was, and I told him this. He went out with it while walking his dog, came back and called me, and said that it was bonkers, but it really drew him in.

There’s a really dry sense of humour running through this album, too. There’s the cover of ‘I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground’, and Nilsson’s ‘One’. It’s kind of filmic – in the sense that there are highs and lows, and moments of comic relief. There’s so much tension, and then release of that tension. It’ll move you, but in a slightly unnerving way.

I read up a little on the record, when it came out – which is something I don’t usually do – and I was surprised to learn that a lot of it was formed by Alva Noto basically breaking computers, breaking software, and recording the sounds. Effectively, these are one-off anomaly sounds, which nobody else has had, ever. That’s a pretty interesting way to make an album – and this is a real art project, a real labour of love. I don’t think many other artists could do this sort of album with such success. Not much other music like this has moved me in the same way.

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Deerhoof – ‘The Runners Four’ (2005)

I went to see Deerhoof for the first time not long after 2007’s ‘Friend Opportunity’ came out, and that was when they had their original line-up, and I really enjoyed it. They played a lot of material from ‘The Runners Four’, and also 2004’s ‘Milk Man’, and the reason I’ve chosen ‘The Runners Four’ is, with my prog head on, it’s the album of theirs with the strongest narrative from start to finish. ‘Milk Man’ has some amazing tracks, but I find ‘The Runners Four’ has a pull the whole way through.

I’m fully aware that Deerhoof is one of those bands that a lot of people find it hard to get into – a lot of them due to Satomi (Matsuzaki)’s voice. It’s definitely an acquired taste. But there are so many ‘moments’ on this album. I think Deerhoof write some of the best riffs ever. I think the high part in ‘Spirit Ditties Of No Tone’ – and if you know the song, you know what I mean – is just one of the most incredibly joyous riffs ever written. I’m always at home learning how to play these songs on guitar, because they’re just the most fun.

Back on 2003’s ‘Apple O’’, there’s a track called ‘L’Amour Stories’, which has this double-guitar play-off thing happening, which Bloc Party would just die if they could come up with. It works in amazing harmony, and is actually a f*cking bad-ass kind of, almost Led Zeppelin riff. There’s a track at the end of ‘The Runners Four’ called ‘Rrrrrrright’, which is one of the heaviest pieces of music I own – and I own a lot of metal, and thrash. This wipes the floor with that. It’s just relentless, and has an incredible bassline.

It’s hard to talk about Deerhoof, because they’re just so bonkers, in the best way possible. I feel like ‘The Runners Four’ should be put into the Smithsonian or somewhere like that. It deserves to be preserved, as an artefact of our existence on Earth. This is pretty much where humans went with music, containing the childlike naivety of nursery rhymes, to orchestration akin to classical music, and these interludes, and then there’s rock and definitely a jazz element. I think aliens would enjoy it – or, at least, ‘The Runners Four’ would be a good record to play to aliens.

I don’t listen to ‘The Runners Four’ as much as I do the other albums I’ve selected here, but every time I do, I get so worked up and excited by it again. It’s so good. But, I haven’t really latched onto another one of their records in quite the same way since. One of my favourite things to do is just YouTube Deerhoof… they’re one of the best live bands I’ve ever seen, who do so much with so little. They make an amazingly powerful racket.

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Photos: Eliot Lee Hazel

Find White Lies online here

Previous Foundations pieces…
Jimmy Eat World 

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